Some theists believe in the concept of multiple wills of God. This concept has been applied against an argument for Universalism. Thus, it deserves attention here. John Piper has written about the subject here. But I think Piper does not delve deeply enough into the original words, and thus his analysis is incomplete.
The Greek word for wills in the Matthew verses cited by Piper to support his case is thelema. That word has very different meanings. In addition to “will,” it can mean “determine,” in which case, if God determines it, it will happen. There is nothing humans can do to alter God’s determining a thing to happen. But it can also mean “command.” Consequently, if it means “command,” what is commanded by God may not happen, for humans can and do freely choose to ignore commandments. So, here we have different interpretations, even opposing ones, depending on which definition is used: a determination is not a commandment. That complication can lead to ambiguity in interpreting what a verse actually means and makes one wonder why such ambiguous words were used in the first place when other words with more specific and non-overlapping definitions were available.
In Piper’s work, for every verse that uses thelema, one can substitute for thelema either determine or command as a stem word, depending on context, and the verse makes perfect sense. For example, in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven,” thelema relies on the stem word determine. But in 1 Peter 4:2, “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God,” it relies on the stem word command.
So, when thelema is used in a verse, context determines which definition is implied. Clearly, the context of Matthew 7:21, Matthew 12:50, and 1 John 2:17, verses Piper uses to make his case, reveals that the sense of the word thelema is akin to command, and as such, of course there will be some not following the thelema of God. Unfortunately, sometimes context may not help, and one then may not know exactly what the writer intended.
The word thelema is not the same word used in some other key mentions of God’s will or desire, and these others do not include among their definitions “command.” For example, in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord . . . is not willing that any should perish, but [wills instead] that all should come to repentance,” the word for willing is boulomai, and its definitions listed in Strong’s Lexicon at the Blue Letter Bible site are “to will deliberately, have a purpose, be minded” or “of willing as an affection, to desire.” The same applies to other Greek words translated as will or desire. For example, the word Greek word for desire in 1 Timothy 2:4 “[God] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” is thelo, and it does not refer to a commandment or anything else that may be defied by recipients.
Proof of that can be shown by noting thelo for desire in both 1 Timothy 2:4 and Isaiah 55:11. In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is clear from Isaiah 55:11 that God accomplishes what He desires, where desire is expressed in Greek by thelo. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” The word thelo for desire, when used in describing God, is a determination, not a commandment.
Thus, to make sense of all of this, one must go back to the original language used in a verse.
Clearly, Piper’s distinction does not apply to verses that use boulomai and other similar words, in which the word for will or desire in no way implies command. There are no multiple wills of God indicated when these base words are used. So when 2 Peter 3:9 says Lord wills (boulomai) that all should come to repentance, that will does not imply a commandment that shall or can be defied. It means all will come to repentance. And as I just showed above, the same applies to thelo.
There are some interesting repercussions here. I have used a syllogism in support of Universalism, a syllogism that comes directly from the ideas of Thomas Talbott.
Premise 1: God desires (thelo) all be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] who desires (thelo) all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”)
Premise 2: **God accomplishes all He desires (thelo). **(Isaiah 55:11: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”)
Conclusion: All will be saved.
Calvinists attack this syllogism using logic from Piper’s contention that there are two wills of God, and His will or desire that all be saved is not a determination but a commandment that can be defied. But if there are not actually two wills implied by the syllogism, which uses the word thelo, the conclusion of the syllogism stands because, as I said, that word denotes “determination,” but not “commandment” as seen from its definitions, unlike one of the main words Piper focuses on, thelema.